Wednesday 2 October 2013

Review: Haunted by William Hussey

Milton Lake is a seemingly ordinary town, where tales of hauntings and strange goings on ripple beneath the surface.

When a mysterious boy comes to town and moves into a large, derelict house, all alone, his arrival changes everything. Shrouded in secrecy, he senses a kindred spirit in Emma Rhodes, and reveals to her a shocking truth. Someone in Milton Lake is using the fabled Ghost Machine to call the spirits of the dead back to our world.

Now it is up to these two lost souls to find out who is operating the strange invention before it is too late . . . 

For call by call, the dead will be unleashed.

Teen Emma Rhodes is carrying a great deal of baggage as she blames herself for the death of her younger brother some time earlier, a tragic event that went on to tear her family apart. She still lives with her father in Milton Lake, but her mother is no longer on the scene. Milton Lake itself has its own tragic past - some years earlier one of its residents massacred a number of people at the town's amusement park that he owned before ending his own life.

As part of a 'gang' initiation rite, a friend of Emma's enters said amusement park, and is carried out in pretty much a catatonic state. It seems as if something evil has arrived in Milton Lake, summoned by a mysterious machine that can be used to open the gates for desperate spirits to re-enter our world in the search of new hosts so that they can live again. It is down to Emma and Nick, the mysterious new kid in town, to find out who has got their hands on this machine before too many spirits cross over and take the lives of Milton Lake's residents.

Anybody who has been following this blog for some time will know that I am a huge fan if William Hussey's Witchfinder trilogy. I have therefore been champing at the bit to read this ever since I last met William at an event and he gave me a basic idea of what the story was about.

I never read much horror before starting this blog, only occasionally dipping my toes in those waters, but over the past few years horror as probably become my favourite genre within YA fiction, and lovers of this genre  pretty much spoiled for choice these days. Love gore? Try Darren Shan or Charlie Higson. Heart-stopping action horror? Go for Will Hill or Alexander Gordon Smith. Spooky, psychological thrills more your thing? William Hussey's Haunted is more than worth your time. I took it to Prague with me when my wife and I visited the city for a few days in the summer, and there was many a moment when she would be impatiently tapping her foot or tutting, desperate for me to put the book down and venture outside to see the sights. And putting it down was something of a challenge as I was hooked from beginning to end.

Of course, if you are a gore fan then you should not simply dismiss this book - if you have read any of William's previous books you will know that he likes to include a bit of the old red stuff (case in point - look what happened to poor Jake Harker's mother in the first Witchfinder book), and there are a number of these moments splattered throughout Haunted. However, it's main strength is very much its sheer creepiness, and its ability to make your skin crawl with terror.

As was the case with William's previous books, Haunted is very well written, with the plot perfectly paced to keep teen readers turning the pages. There are also the requisite plot twists that all good stories like this should have, and although I do pride myself on my ability to work out twists in books, there were enough in Haunted to keep me guessing right up until the final denouement. 

The main characters of Emma and Nick are very likeable, although it did take me while to gel with them. I think this was because of the way in which the author developed them as the story progressed, by drip feeding little bits of information and hints about their troubled pasts, and it is only when they are slap bang in the thick of the action, with their lives at risk, that we truly start to empathise with them and fear for their safety. In fact, by the end we are on something of an emotional roller coaster ride, but to say any more about that would create spoilers. The supporting cast are somewhat B-movie-ish (made up term), adding to that overall sense of creepiness that pervades throughout the story.

Haunted was published by OUP (thank you for my copy, generous publisher people) at the beginning of September, and if you love YA horror then it is a must-add for your collection.

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